Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Power of Unity

What eliminated the "6th Row Wall" discussed in the previous blog? There have been some technical improvements to sound and such... and I believe the quality of the song selections has vastly improved... but those I don't believe are the real answer.

Around December of '04 there was a prophecy given in our church... it said "{there is} a transitioning taking place here. There is a move of God taking place. I saw that it was going to come through worship..."

I began to watch the worship... when there was a noticable move of the Spirit I would look to see if it was, indeed, coming through worship. As you might expect there was usually some correlation between an inspired worship time and the manifestations of God's presence and power but it never seemed to me that it had "...come through worship..." in the way I kept watching for. (now I know all of you are thinking, "he thinks way too much")

One day as I pondered this out loud with my worship team one of the members said, "It has already come through worship. Not through what happens on platform on Sunday morning but in what happens in the back rooms in preparation... the group has become a team... united in purpose, uncompetitive... and God's presence comes through unity"

The Grand Worship Experiment

I wrote early last year about the "Grand Worship Experiment". This was where we consolidated teams down to one team and began using a worship strategy team to meet monthly and assemble the next month's sets.

We are coming up on almost a year of using this process and the results are off-the-charts. Our repertoire has expanded and has become very current. We just completed our January planning meeting and I am amazed looking over next month's songs... they are all excellent... not a dog among them. If you aren't into worship and music you might not appreciate that statement... but a year ago our song selections were weak with an occassional winner... today the sets are energetic and passionate from start to finish most weeks. I am so pleased with this turn around.

We have also picked up a couple of people and, with the consistency we've gained by using the same team each week we have seen a few people, particularly vocalists, really step up big as they've gained confidence and experience. Something really happens when you lay your hands on someone (figuratively) and let them know that the role is theirs... we now have a minimum of 3 people carry the vocal lead any given week... and usually 4 or 5 different vocal leads on 6 or 7 songs... and they are all getting more comfortable in the role and any one of them could today lead an entire worship set alone. That was not possible a year ago.

The real goal is to work myself out of a job in the worship team. It currently still needs and depends on my leadership a great deal but it is growing less dependant weekly. This year I have targeted a couple of people to see them step up and lead more letting me begin to disappear. The system in place lets a team determine songs... and the team was trained by me on song selection... so if I leave they still pick using my model and thought process. The System allows multiple leaders. Although there is one leader responsible for the flow the service doesn't have to center on them. This allow me to not sing at all and still guide the feel and direction. Its a little hard to explain but it is happening.

We defined a purpose early on as a team, and the purpose quickly morphed into a model for our sets. It goes something like this:
Raise them to their feet in celebration,
Lay them on their face in adoration,
And Lift them up again a new person

By reminding ourselves of this each week we can easily arrange songs and styles to accomplish this. Our first part of the set is celebratory, moves directly into intimate worship for a song or two and then end with a big vertical anthem. We have virtually eliminated what we used to call "middle songs" that are usually beautiful ballads but are neither celebratory nor intimate and we concluded weren't moving us toward our purpose.

Yes, it can seem a little programmatic and there is always room to move and change with the spirit, but this has revolutionized our worship experience in the church. A year ago we were regularly having serious discussions about the "6th row wall"... it seemed like whatever we were doing on stage was getting about 6 rows back and falling to the floor. The first few rows were fully engaged in praise and worship while everything from there back seemed lifeless. This phenomenon we blamed on sound systems, leadership, styles, demons, whatever we could think of... today its a non issue... the congregation is fully engaged front to back... it would be difficult most weeks to identify a "section" of the sanctuary not full participating in the worship service.

Friday, December 23, 2005

End of Year Catchall

I know I haven't kept up the blog like I should. It's been a busy year... the heck of a year. I don't know how to capture it all in print and do it justice but I'll give some of the highlights.

If you glance back a few entries you see that I changed jobs and began working at the church in January. There have been a few changes since then and, with the departure of the previous Associate Pastor, I have moved into that role. This has also allowed Marie to step into the Administrative Pastor's position providing us the much-needed income boost that far offsets the pay reductions I took in January in order to facilitate ministry.

All in all Marie and I have never been more fulfilled in ministry than we are right now. We are seeing a great deal of impact and growth in the church and leaders around us and can attribute at least a small portion of that to our efforts... that's a great feeling. And the relationship we have with Bruce and Elaine, the Senior Pastors here, is wonderful. They are far more to us than boss, or co-workers... or even mentors... they are our closest friends and, often, surrogate parents.

We still see a great need with much more to do and I feel like we have the infrastructure of leaders beginning to take shape. The next year is going to be about mobilizing leaders to step out and have impact around them. I have some ideas for that which I will write more about soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Worship Rocks!

The most exciting thing going on right now in my life is the worship ministry. I have been one of three worship leaders here for a year or so and the three teams have all been pretty good with three significantly different and distinct styles. There has been, however, little in the way of a consistent move of the Spirit. I wrote in December about my desire to see more of the manifest presence of God.

One of the things I felt hindered us was a perception of disunity between the three teams. I don't believe there was any real discord but the disparate styles of the groups and the fact that there were three different leaders offered the impression of "each doing what was right in their own eyes." Therefore the first thing I wanted to accomplish was to attack that perception.

Although I have never seen this modeled anywhere I decided to take a drastic measure... I invited 6 senior members of the worship band and team to meet with me once a month to build the sets for the coming month. In this meeting we would bring any new songs we wanted to try and we would all work together to put together each service.

We also pulled together the best of the three groups to form one team that performs every week utilizing essentially the same people week after week. This alone has tightened up the group both musically and relationally.

The very first week after this began we saw a powerful, tangible lift in the spirit of the church, as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit during our worship service. The next week picked up where that one left off and now, 4 weeks into this grand experiment, it is almost unbelievable how dramatic the change is that has taken place.

People in the congregation are commenting on the sense of "unity over the church." The power of God has prevailed over the worship. The band is invested in the service... I have noticed the musicians singing while they play... that's never happened... and they feel empowered... they are already holding the bar a little higher for each other. After this week's meeting (planning March) they requested a weekend practice to work on "their new songs." I have asked for weekend practices in the past and nobody was willing... now they are the one's calling them.

The leaders had to relinquish some of their authority... it's hard to have a song you have always loved doing get voted off the island. I brought a new song to the meeting this week... I had listened to it all week and it always moved me... I wanted to do it next month. I was the only person who voted to do it... everyone else was very ambivalent about it... therefore we canned it. On the other hand, in one of our first meetings someone else brought in a song that was unanimously agreed on. It proved to be one of the most powerful songs we've done and was immediately received by the congregation. What has happened is that there are no weak songs in any of our sets. Every song is powerful because I have 6 people bringing the best to the table and I'm not throwing together a set on Saturday evening.

And, preparing the sets weeks in advance gives ample time for me to get cd's and chord charts to everyone giving them plenty of time to listen and work on the songs.

The downside is that I have a handful of singers and musicians that have been on the platform occasionally that are no longer used. In order to include them I am having a choir sing on the final Sunday of the month... although I am not calling it a choir... I prefer "large vocal group." I am focusing the music that week to music that is served by the big anthem vocals. We are preparing for our first big vocal weekend now. I will still lead the worship and use the choir much like I currently use backup singers.

Oh, yes... of the other two worship leaders... one has left the church for unrelated reasons and the other seems to be enjoying the changes... and we are letting the vocal lead float between 4 or 5 vocalists. We have also stepped up the training on a couple of young vocalists that will one day lead worship... and they are getting more lead opportunities.

I will keep you posted as this grand experiment continues

Home Group Notes

After our "40 Days of Purpose" campaign back in April of last year we were able to maintain about 10 home groups. These groups are still operating with varying degrees of success. I have taken on the responsibilities to grow and multiply these groups.

The "40 Days" model of using a video to teach and drive the group with handouts and discussion questions to stimulate interaction and community is, I believe, a good model for this day in this culture. The 15 minute videos are short enough that anyone can stay with it and light enough for anyone to digest it. The interaction can be taylored to a groups maturity... simple and near the surface for nonbelievers or new christians... deep and probing for those wanting more transparency.

I have begun working on several teaching series that we will be producing in house for DVD distribution. The video studio is almost ready... lights are being hung... computers in place... even setting up a teleprompter for script support. It has proven to be quite an undertaking but I am excited about the project.

Initially the teaching will be 15-20 minutes with discussion questions presented at the end of the video onscreen... with a 'continue' button to proceed to the next question... I hope it will be 'home group in a box'... something that can guide leaders through provoking interaction.

I am also revisiting the need for training the leaders. "40 Days" encouraged us to invite people to "Host" groups that were not necessarily leaders... therefore, when "40 Days" ended we still had groups meeting with ministry models and leadership models that were all over the board. As a Vineyard church it concerns me when we have "leaders" ministering in decidedly "non-Vineyard" models. I hope to begin a leadership (and prospective leadership) training program that is grounded in Kingdom Theology, Vineyard Values and Priorities and particularly focused on ministry models.

We are seeing many exciting things in our groups right now. A couple of significant healings... a young woman was recently healed from bolemia... another had a tumor disappear from her leg... a pregnant woman had a tumor vanish from her sonogram over a 3 week period after prayer (with pictures to document it). The power of God is moving through the community of small gorups.

New Job, New Focus

Ok... ok already... I've been chastised for not writing in over 2 months. Its been busy but fun. I'll try to catch you up on all that's gone on.

I have been working for Saks... (yes, that Saks... as in 5th avenue) for 2 years. I have also been working some on the side doing contract work for a company. The company I was contracting with began to try and hire me over a year ago but they couldn't come up with an offer good enough to make me leave the comfort and security of Saks. In the meantime I had begun to take some Bible courses and school requirements were really swamping me. Towards the end of December I was talking with their people and mentioned my need for more time to do ministry and school. Two days later they called me with an offer that allowed me to work 20 hours a week and still earn enough to live on. Its a significant cut in pay but along with Marie's salary (she left school this semester and is working on staff at the church as Children's Pastor) still provides the opportunity to move back into ministry more aggressively. So, since January 1st I have been having a blast. I have setup an office at the church and have taken over responsibilities for worship and the home group system.

I will write more on some of the things happening in those ministry areas but I want to touch on something else, first.

I looked back over some of the things I have written in the past... most notably things regarding the role of an Associate Pastor... how to submit vision, etc. I realize some of what I have written regarding struggles over vision have no relevance to me today... being back in a full pastoral role is so fulfilling... that my vision and that of the Senior Pastor is truly the same. I don't feel any sense of struggle making visions mesh. We obviously don't see everything the same and don't react to everything alike... but we are one in spirit, in motivation and goal and it is a joy to be working with people like that again.